How to Read a Superscription

     Many of the great hymns in history have a back story.  Such beloved songs as “Let the Lower Lights be Burning” and “When Peace Like a River” arose from tragic circumstances. 

     This is true also for the inspired psalms.  In between the heading of Psalm 3 and the first verse in the Bible that I have used for several years for my daily Bible reading there is the following:  “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.”  The fancy name for this category of background information is “superscription.”  Because it is quite unlikely that David himself wrote this information when he penned any of his masterpieces, it does challenge the reader to make sure he understands the limitations and value of each superscription. 

     The limitations of a superscription is that it is probably uninspired.  This is why superscriptions are placed in the Scriptures how and where they are.  They were probably written by someone other than the inspired author of the psalm and were probably added when the book of Psalms was arranged into one collection.  Because of these “probably”s, one should not view them in the same way as the word of God, for “the testimony of the Lord is sure” (Psalm 19:7), not “probably sure”.  (However, when an inspired writer in the Old or New Testament declares, for example, that Psalm 2 was written by David (Acts 4:25-26), it is certain that David was the inspired penman of that psalm–even if it should contradict a superscription.)

     The value of a superscription is seen in its age.  Because of how old they are, there is no good reason to entertain extensive doubts concerning their accuracy.  Though their author’s exact identity is unknown, the scribe(s) who made them lived a whole lot closer to the date of each psalm’s composition than you or I do.  Therefore, a superscription can be quite helpful in better understanding a psalm’s probable back story.

     Because there are many “Study Bibles” on the market today, it is imperative that the wise Bible reader understand the difference between the information of a superscription written hundreds of years ago and a “Study Help” written recently.  Because both are written by uninspired writers, it is imperative that the wise Bible reader understand that the information in a “Study Bible” can be inaccurate.  For example, the Scofield Study Bible teaches the false doctrine (and ultimately, the false hermeneutics) of premillennialism in its notes; many unsuspecting readers have perused these notes, believed them, and have thus believed a lie.

     Since the Garden of Eden, Satan’s mission has been to get people to believe a lie instead of God’s Word.  I know of no superscription in the Psalms that does that; I know of several “Study Bibles” whose notes do. 

     This is important to know because believing a lie never ends in eternal life (2nd Thessalonians 2:11-12).   

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Author: jchowning

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